To save the economy we must reduce video bandwidth use — now (updated)

Now that we’re all working from home, the internet is breaking. Reduce consumption now -- all streaming providers should emulate Netflix and YouTube on this.

Apple, iOS, internet, video collaboration, coronavirus, enterprise, video, how to
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Internet capacity is robust, but the massive increase in global consumption is pushing usage beyond its usual spike, EU regulators have warned.

It is probable that streaming media consumption, gaming and video collaboration are responsible for most of this additional demand. To maintain our connected culture during the current crisis, individuals, enterprises and big tech firms must cut down on their bandwidth usage — and the best way to do so is to reduce the use of video.

Reduce video bandwidth

Why?

The truth is that video accounted for over two-thirds of global consumer internet traffic in 2017 and has continued to grow ever since.

In its most recent State of the Internet report, Cisco observes that an internet-enabled HD TV used to watch shows for a few hours daily generates more traffic than a whole household. In part this is because we are streaming video in 4K.

In other words, even as the internet strains to handle the demands of tens of millions of workers worldwide fortunate enough to be able to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also struggling to handle the sheer quantity of video we are all consuming.

Video is by far the biggest consumer of bandwidth, and if we’re going to optimize how we make use of it, we’re going to need to reduce our consumption of it.

We all need to keep working, so it makes complete sense to reduce the quantity of video-related traffic we generate — or at least take steps to mitigate it.

So, what can consumers do immediately?

Every enterprise worker is also a consumer, so these recommendations apply to everyone, whether you’re a Morgan Stanley executive suddenly wondering why the brave nurses, doctors and utility staff are paid so much less than you as they face the risks of the coronavirus while you shelter in your home or if you are a proud parent cuddling your children and hoping for the best.

If two-thirds of internet traffic is video-related, it makes sense to mitigate video consumption first. And you can — with just a little inconvenience.

How to reduce streaming bandwidth consumption

If you use a streaming TV system (a smart TV, Apple TV, or such-like), you should reduce the resolution of the video you download.

While doing so will reduce your picture quality, it will also reduce the amount of data your TV set requires. If everyone who uses a streaming video system cuts quality, this should make a significant difference in terms of available bandwidth during the current crisis.

Here's what to do with an Apple TV:

Screensavers: Open Settings > General > Screensaver > Aerial and change the Download New Videos setting to Never. This will reduce the amount of bandwidth you consume by around 600MB per instance. You may also want to prevent your photos from being downloaded to Apple TV.

TV resolution: Changing the Apple TV resolution in Audio and Video settings doesn’t really change the bandwidth used. In order to reduce that bandwidth, you must open the settings for each relevant streaming app (in my case that’s Amazon Prime, Netflix and TV+).  

For the TV app, set Wi-Fi playback quality to ‘Good’ on all the devices you use to consume video content. You’ll find it impossible to adjust settings for Prime and Netflix, and this is why the EU is asking streaming video service providers to get with the program and reduce the quality of the shows they provide, in order to ensure that the internet doesn’t break.

  • Update 3/20/20: Netflix is lowering video quality on its service in Europe for the next 30 days, to reduce the strain on ISPs. That's great, but this action should be global.
  • Update 3/20/20: YouTube has also announced plans to reduce streaming quality, again, only in Europe. This action should be global.
  • Update 3/20/20: Amazon Prime has also confirmed plans to reduce streaming bitrates. Good, but this will inevitably become global.

Other providers must heed this call.

Put your social media apps on a bandwidth diet

All the social media apps (particularly Facebook) are bad citizens when it comes to auto-streaming video. Not only is this usually annoying, but it also consumes valuable bandwidth.

To reduce video bandwidth consumption on Twitter: Tap the three-dot symbol to find Twitter’s settings and privacy tools. Select Data usage and enable data saver. Once you’ve done so, videos won’t autoplay, and images will be loaded in lower quality. You will need to repeat these steps on each device you use to access the service.

To reduce video bandwidth consumption on Facebook: Facebook’s settings are, as ever, stupidly complicated, which I resent. Tap the three-line icon to access your menu, scroll down to Settings (ignoring the garish blue of the app), tap this and scroll down, down, down until you find Videos and photos. Tap this and ensure Auto-play is set to never, reduce motion is off and that you aren’t uploading content in HD.

I’d be interested to hear from other social media companies as to how to reduce their video bandwidth consumption. I’ll add short instructions to this story.

What can enterprises do now?

Now that you have more people than ever before working from home, enterprises have a social responsibility to take stock of the quantity of bandwidth they use.

For example, following its national lock-down, Italy is experiencing a threefold increase in the use of videoconferencing and has seen a 75% increase in residential data traffic, reports the Financial Times.

Mobile networks have already shown signs of strain, though broadband seems to be holding up. However, in Spain the industry is warning consumers to ration their use and try to use land lines for voice calls.

These statistics strongly suggest there is a need to take responsibility for bandwidth consumption today as more nations across our planet are now also heading into lock-down. What enterprise, or any other form of culture, we have left after this crisis in part depends upon this.

I understand each enterprise setup is different, so providing relevant advice for everyone is beyond the scope of this piece, but some basic strategies to reduce video bandwidth consumption follow:

  1. Don’t force employees to keep an active video chat session going all through working hours. You employed your people and if you can’t trust them to continue working for you even while they are at home, that reflects more on you than on them.
  2. Examine the videoconferencing tools you use. FaceTime video quality on iOS, for example, is defined in Settings > Camera. Here you can define Record Video to the lowest quality setting and set Formats to Most Compatible, which may help. Every videoconferencing system is different, and some lack any obvious way in which to reduce video resolution, but your enterprise should work with vendors to identify ways in which to mitigate bandwidth for conferencing calls.
  3. Audit the use of videoconferencing. The internet is precious, and while it might be nice to have a videoconference with team members for some projects during the crisis, for others (particularly for sick or vulnerable people quarantined at this time) the ability to engage with other people using consumer video tools could be seen as more essential. With this in mind, it makes sense to use messaging and voice chat services more in order to reduce the demand your enterprise places on the internet for video services.
  4. Video service providers must consider making network-wide adjustments to the quality of video they serve. They already know how much bandwidth their services consume. It makes sense to mitigate this as demand for these services increases.

Enterprises and technology firms can also consider asking employees to stagger the installation of essential software upgrades, particularly when the workforce is distributed globally.

What can video-focused enterprises do now?

Advertising firms that place video should consider reducing the quality of the content they distribute in order to help mitigate this demand.

I think there’s also a strong case to disable video auto-play on sites, services and browsers.

All the research shows that video is the most engaging content, which is why so many people now are creating it. (I’d probably create some myself, were it not for my deep personal anxiety, innate shyness and face for radio). Despite which, it seems necessary for video platform providers to shoulder their part in this struggle and work to reduce video bandwidth consumption, possibly by reducing the quality of video they serve up.

I understand people love 4K video quality — I do myself — but reducing this quality in the short term seems an essential step in order to maintain economic productivity, personal communications, entertainment systems and all the other benefits of our digital lives.

If anyone has further advice to help mitigate bandwidth consumption, please let me know.

More information to help you through

I continue in my attempt to provide useful and wide-ranging information to help remote workers and the enterprises that employ them through the current crisis. Feel free to explore my previous work on this.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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